When I walk out on the battlefield, I always make sure I go to the monuments of the units where my ancestors served, so I can pay my respects to the fallen. One of my ancestors was Henry Lentz in the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Recently, I found out that I don’t just have an ancestor on the Union side, but also, one who fought for the Confederacy. From what my grandmother has told me, my first name comes from her maiden name, which in turn, comes from the Avery Family of North Carolina. This family has an old history tracing roots to colonial New England as well as being prominent cotton planters in North Carolina. Isaac E. Avery is one of the many from the Avery family in North Carolina. He died while fighting at Cemetery Hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Avery was originally a part of the 6th North Carolina Regiment. The 6th NC was organized on 16 May 1861 and started training in Camp Alamance on 1 June near Raleigh. The regiment joined Joe Johnston’s army on July 16 as part of the 3rd Brigade, which consisted of the 7th and 8th Georgia and 11th Mississippi regiments. The 6th North Carolina participated in the assault to recapture Henry House Hill during the Battle of First Manassas. The following year the regiment participated in every single campaign and battle the Army of Northern Virginia fought; the Peninsula Campaign (May 31-July 1), Second Manassas (August 29-31), and Antietam (September 17). Though often engaged, the 6th North Carolina would not see intense combat until the Chancellorsville Campaign (May 1863) where the regiment lost 8 killed and 21 wounded. That was nearly the number of casualties the 6th NC took during all its previous battles. However, that would change at Gettysburg.
Let’s examine Isaac E. Avery and the 6th North Carolina’s journey to Gettysburg. Avery was born in Burke County, North Carolina in December of 1828. Avery was the son of a distinguished planter family. He was well-educated but left the University of North Carolina in 1847 to manage the family farm. Ten years later, Avery went into the railroading business with Charles F. Fisher and Samuel M. Tate. At the start of the war, Fisher organized the 6th North Carolina and Avery and Tate both became company commanders in the regiment. Avery had a couple close calls in the first two years of the war. He was wounded at the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861 and then wounded again at Seven Pines during the Peninsula Campaign on May 31, 1862. Avery was promoted to Lt. Colonel after that battle and eventually was given command of the 6th North Carolina. He remained commander of the 6th until the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Brig. Gen. Hoke, commander of the 3rd Brigade, was wounded, and Avery took temporary command.
On July 1, 1863 Col. Avery’s brigade arrived in Gettysburg at 3:00PM as party of Jubal Early’s Division of Ewell’s Corps. Avery’s brigade, which included the 6th North Carolina, would meet a hailstorm of fire the next day. The brigade attacked on the right of Cemetery Hill against withering musketry and cannon fire. There were three stone walls that the brigade had to surmount to reach the summit of Cemetery Hill. Colonel A.C. Godwin of the 57th North Carolina recalled, “The ground was rocky and uneven and these obstacles prevented that rapidity of movement and unity of action which might have insured success.” (Jordan and Manarin, p. 263) The brigade met further trouble when Col. Isaac E. Avery was struck by a minie ball in the neck. He was left unable to speak because of his wound and later died in a field hospital the following day. Col. Godwin of the 57th North Carolina took command of the brigade and recalled, “In his death, the country lost one of her truest and bravest sons, and the army one of its most gallant and efficient officers.” (Jordan and Manarin, p. 264)
It is very interesting for me to have ancestors on the Confederate side of the war. I can claim that I have a Pennsylvania Bucktail and a North Carolina Tarheel in my family history, both of whom fought at Gettysburg. I hope to learn more about my relatives in the near future.
John M. Archer, “East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg”, Thomas Publications: Gettysburg, PA, 1997.
Terry L. Jones, “Cemetery Hill: The Struggle for the High Ground, July 1-3, 1863” Da Capo Press: Cambridge, MA, 2003.
Harry W. Pfanz, “Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill”, North Carolina Press: NC, 1993.
Weymouth T. Jordan, Jr. and Louis H. Manarin, “North Carolina Troops (1861-1865): A Roster” Office of Archives and History: Raleigh, NC 1973.